The Artistic Legacy of Tom Lea
The Artistic Legacy of Tom Lea

Born in 1907 in El Paso, Texas, Lea was deeply influenced by the rugged landscapes and vibrant cultures of the region. Lea's early works showcased his mastery of both realism and impressionism, capturing the essence of the Southwest's vast deserts, rolling hills, and its people's unique way of life.

Lea's reputation as an artist grew steadily, resulting in a breakthrough when he was commissioned by Life magazine to document World War II as a war correspondent. His on-the-ground experiences brought the horrors and heroism of the war to life, providing readers with a stark, human perspective of the conflict. Lea's artistic talents weren't limited to the battlefield. His work as an illustrator and writer extended to other mediums, such as books and murals.

Pass of the North

In addition to his artistic pursuits, Lea was a prolific historian. His books, essays, and lectures on the history of the Southwest illuminated the rich tapestry of cultures and events that shaped the region. His passion for preserving history and culture has left an enduring legacy that continues to inform and inspire scholars, artists, and enthusiasts.

Founded in his honor, the Tom Lea Institute was founded in 2009 by Adair Margo. The Tom Lea Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting, presenting, teaching, and exhibiting the works of Tom Lea. Through its digital library, curricula, public programs, exhibitions, and publications, the Institute reaches audiences of all ages and encourages the exploration of regional art, history and culture.

The Lead Steer

Alongside the Texas Historical Commission, the Tom Lea Institute has released a mobile website dedicated to the life and work of Lea. The release of the mobile website kicks off the statewide Tom Lea Celebration of events running from September 2023 – April 2024. The website will include Texas Time Travel Tours, a suite of multimedia mobile tours created by the THC, featuring narrated history, GPS-enabled maps, photo galleries, short videos, and audio clips.

The Tom Lea Trail Tour, created in partnership with the Tom Lea Institute, is the 12th statewide tour added to the platform. The tour traverses the entire state, extending from the north in the small town of Seymour to the South Texas chaparral, where Lea authored and illustrated what is regarded as one of the greatest ranching histories ever written, The King Ranch. Thanks to hours of oral history recorded with Lea before his death in 2001, travelers can stand before his depictions of early Texas in 12 different communities, including El Paso, Odessa, Dallas, Waco, Austin.

Lea’s enduring legacy lives on through his art, words, and dedication to preserving the stories of this unique and enchanting region, ensuring that his contributions will be celebrated and cherished for generations to come.

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